GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Mask mandates and COVID restrictions may have lifted a few weeks ago for the general public. However, for Dr. Andrew Jameson and others, the battle against the virus continues. He said he’ll remember the last 16 months to be long and exhausting.
He added that "it was a tough year, that’s for sure."
“The frank answer is that it’s been a mix between professionally rewarding and pretty hard to deal with,” Dr. Jameson said during a Zoom interview last week. “It’s been an honor to help our organization and our community go through some of this together and help try to do things that keep our patients safe and keep our colleagues safe. It’s been honoring to kind of be a part of that. But, I really didn’t notice how much of a weight that really is.”
Dr. Jameson is the medical director for infectious disease with Mercy Health St. Mary's near downtown Grand Rapids. He said making policies and recommendations that impacted the entire hospital staff, patients and visitors during the pandemic weighed on him, including the circumstances that were out of his control.
“I think the toughest thing was seeing people that I cared about, that I worked with, be emotionally dragged or emotionally harmed by this,” Dr. Jameson said. “We lost so many really good nurses in our ICU and in our COVID units because they just were sick of watching people die. It’s a tough disease when you know you do everything right and people will still pass away.”
He said it was tough looking them in the eye and knowing that there was very little he could do for them. The turnover rate was higher than he’s ever seen it.
Dr. Claudia Jarrin believes the nurses were the real heroes during the pandemic.
“They are the ones seeing these patients on a day-to-day basis. They administer their medications. They talk to them,” said Dr. Claudia Jarrin about the nurses at Mercy Health Muskegon where she works. “They have been doing a great deal of work talking to the families and thinking of creative ways to make sure that these patients still feel loved and appreciated.”
Dr. Jarrin, who’s the medical director of infection prevention and control, said the challenging part of the last year was trying to keep up with the recommendations, guidelines, and treatments from the CDC and local health departments.
And, it was the spike in cases around the holidays and in early spring that made her most nervous.
“It’s been a roller coaster sometimes. Anticipating, that has been my main thing that I’ve learned is to anticipate,” Dr. Jarrin said via a Zoom interview recently. “So, as soon as we started seeing a slight increase or maybe an increase in the cases in areas around our county or in the state or even in the U.S., then I would always try to anticipate. So, that certainly created some anxiety and stress.”
Dr. Jameson said that it felt like ‘they were chasing their tails' trying to keep up with local and national health officials. So, Mercy changed their approach.
“We started testing everyone that got admitted. We started testing everyone before surgeries. We did a trial where we tested all of our staff on our COVID units just to see if any of them had asymptomatic COVID that they could be transmitting to each other or anybody else,” Dr. Jameson said. “We did all these things, and being proactive was such a better feeling than being reactive. Our colleagues also noticed it because they really felt the organization had their best interest and protection in mind versus us towing the latest line from whatever regulator we were trying to appease at that time.”
Currently, 60 percent of the people in Kent County are fully vaccinated. And, there’s been a few days in June in which there were zero positive cases, something he hasn’t seen since last March, he said.
Dr. Jameson credits his family and faith for getting him through the pandemic. However, if vaccinations can increase once again, he said the pandemic will be over for everyone sooner rather than later.
“I feel like we have this opportunity in the next month or so, before kids go back to school, before the fall, before virus season starts, before people start going back indoors where if we get our vaccinations numbers up, we could really maybe be done with this once and for all,” Dr. Jameson said. “But, there’s a lot of ifs there.”